by Graham B.
Two friends have to become lost in order to find themselves.
|“I see light!” said Jimmy. “It’s just a bit further!”
Mark quickened his pace to keep up with Jimmy, taking care not to trip on any stalagmites which thrust upward from the cavern floor. Despite this, he stubbed his toe on one and cursed.
“There!” called Jimmy.
“Save your strength,” said Mark. “You’re gonna need it…”
“Screw that! We’re almost out of here!”
A few more bounding steps, and Jimmy stumbled out into the largest room they had seen since getting lost almost two days ago. The two men stopped and gaped.
The room was about two hundred yards across, littered with the rubble of broken stalactites and stalagmites, dislodged by some cataclysm ages ago. In the center of the room was a pool of water. But the eyes of the two men were drawn to the hole in the ceiling from which light streamed into the center of the pool, sparkling as it lit a gentle bubbling just below.
The two exhausted men sat down on the floor of the cave and regarded the hole, twenty feet above their heads.
“What now?” breathed Jimmy, utterly spent.
Mark peeled off his knapsack and drew a bottle of water from inside. He took a long pull, then handed it to Jimmy.
“I told you save your strength.”
Jimmy laughed, a sharp bitter sound which echoed like a slap from the cavern walls.
“You got a ladder in there?”
Mark shook his head.
“Then what now, goddamit! C’mon, you’re the expert!”
Mark laid back and closed his eyes.
“Expert at what?” he replied. “You’re as much of an expert at caving as I am. I thought you knew that.”
Jimmy sat down on a stalagmite stump and glowered at the pool.
“How can you be so cavalier about this? We’re going to die, aren’t we?”
“We don’t know that.”
“We don’t know much. I knew it. I knew we didn’t plan this out well.”
Mark rubbed his eyes and looked at the hole again. It glowed tantalizingly at him, well out of reach.
“Planning what? This is what spelunking is”
He stood up and walked to the edge of the pool. The water gently swirled and welled, but made no sound.
“We went deep into the bowels of the earth to explore the unknown! No human ever set foot here before! Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”
“We’ll also be the first human corpses here. Wasn’t there something we could have done? Maybe some way to map this place out before we started exploring?”
Jimmy pulled out his cell phone and checked the screen. He frowned, shook his head, and put it away.
“Shit, Jimmy. Stop trying to control everything! This isn’t one of your venture capital projects, with your funding proposals and your marketing studies and all of your analytics. This is the unknown! Isn’t this what you came for?”
Jimmy was silent.
Mark turned back to him, his dark eyes shining.
“This is it! This is why we’re here! So we’re in a little trouble, but we’ll find a way. We always do.”
He sat down on a boulder across from Jimmy.
“Remember back when we were living in Seattle? When we explored that abandoned building?”
“The cannery. I remember it. We thought we were so tough kicking holes in the crumbling concrete. Boy we were a couple of little troublemakers, huh?”
“And someone called the cops and reported us as trespassers. Remember how we got away?”
“We went down through the sewers. Hah! Been dry for decades, but the cops were none the wiser.”
“We were explorers even back then, Jimmy.”
“I just don’t know. I mean everything changed…”
“It sure did. You went off to Harvard Business School and I went to Columbia. But I never stopped exploring, Jimmy. I think you didn’t want to either. Else, why did you come on this trip?”
Jimmy suddenly frowned.
“I don’t know. Maybe I wanted to see a little of what you saw. Maybe I had something to prove. But you were like a ghost.”
“What are you talking about? I joined the same firm as you.”
“No. You made your pile, then you went traveling around the world. I put everything I had into the firm. Twenty hour days! Conferences in London and Berlin! But you went ahead and…”
Jimmy trailed off.
“Lived my life?” Mark finished. “You did what you loved, Jimmy. I mean… you could have come with me on some of my trips. You would have loved Machu Picchu…”
“You didn’t tell me about that trip until you got back!”
Mark was silent. Jimmy shook his head.
“All this time, Mark, I just wanted to get out of the office. Leave the board of directors and accountants behind and really do something. Lately, every time we’ve had a staff meeting, I’ve wanted to sink into the floor and disappear.”
“Well, you did.’
“Yeah, permanently! Shit!"
Mark stared into the water, then looked at Jimmy.
“I’m sorry, Jimmy.”
Jimmy suddenly scowled, and rose to his feet.
“Sorry? That’s it? Look what you got me into, Mark! One time I wanted to get away, and look where we are!”
He was shouting now and stepped closer to Mark.
“Easy, brother,” Mark said, standing up. In the faint glow of the cavern, Mark stood a half a foot taller than Jimmy, but Jimmy still advanced, his blue eyes blazing.
“I’ve got a family!” he spat. “I’ve got responsibilities! What do you have?”
“Jimmy, I don’t…”
“Three girlfriends you see once in a blue moon and a son somewhere you’ve never met!”
Jimmy was inches away from Mark, and spittle flew from his mouth onto Mark’s shirt as he yelled.
“Jimmy, I’m warning you, back off!”
“Fuck you, Mark! You never cared about anything but yourself! I’m gonna die because of you!”
Jimmy grabbed Mark by his backpack straps and tried to shake the larger man. The two men scuffled, their grunts echoing eerily off of the cavern walls like a demented musical number. Beyond, the pool bubbled as gently and indifferently as before. Suddenly, Mark broke Jimmy’s grip and Jimmy went careening backward toward the pool, his arms windmilling.
“Jimmy!” Mark cried.
There was a splash, and the suddenly-disturbed pool roiled as Jimmy disappeared before the surface.
Mark ran to the pool calling Jimmy’s name.
“Hey, buddy! Come back up here!”
But the pool quickly smoothed over and kept bubbling. Jimmy was gone.
“What the hell?”
Mark began pacing back and forth, his eyes searching the surface of the water. He watched the bubbles for a moment, then his eyes lit up. He carefully checked his gear, and then dove into the icy water.
Under the surface he saw it: a hole in the rocks, barely visible, and the bubbling currents tugged him with giant’s hands toward it. He swam forward into the murk and was enveloped in darkness. Seconds passed, and Mark’s lungs began to burn, but he kept kicking in what he thought was a forward direction.
Something struck him in the nose. It was a shoe!
He could see nothing, but could hear Jimmy thrashing as he was swept along by the current. Mark grabbed Jimmy, wrapped his arms around him and allowed the current to keep pushing them along, ever faster.
More seconds crept by, and the burning in his lungs turned into a fire and spread to his muscles. Jimmy had stopped struggling and had gone limp. Spots started to swim languidly in front of Mark’s eyes like lazy fish. They so distracted him that he almost didn’t notice a brightening glow ahead. Infused with renewed energy, he tightened his grip on Jimmy and with the last bit of oxygen in his bloodstream he kicked toward the light.
The two men burst through the surface of a lake, all but blinded by the sun. Mark finished gulping fresh air into his lungs, then checked Jimmy, who was unconscious but still breathing. He wearily dragged Jimmy to the shore and sat on the sandy beach. The frigid mountain air immediately began sucking the heat out through his wet shirt and set him to shivering. As he took off his shirt and began wringing the water out, he examined their surroundings.
The lake nestled in between two snow-capped mountain peaks and was adorned with a few stunted juniper bushes. Further down the mountain side, a line of tall pines began, a crowd of timber which couldn’t quite reach the lake’s heights. Forests marched away as far as Mark could see, a magnificent green army standing as if in salute of their mountain. He suddenly smiled.
Jimmy’s eyes fluttered open and he gasped at the air.
“You found a way out, Jimmy,” said Mark
Jimmy sat up and immediately began shivering, still drinking air in great gulps.
“I did?” he panted.
“Yeah. Just like in Seattle.”
Jimmy slumped back on the beach but managed a grin.
“Just like old times, huh?”
The sun warmed the explorers until they stopped shivering, and Jimmy picked up a rock and flung it into the lake.
“I’m going to quit the firm, Mark.”
“I thought you loved what you did. Don’t you like funding those startups? Making dreams come true?”
“I’d rather fund my own dreams, now. If you don’t love what you do, you should do something else, right?”
“Besides, I’ve got more money than I know what to do with. Really. Any suggestions?”
“Well, there’s a cave in Chile…”
Jimmy threw clod of sand at him.
“Thanks, for saving my life. In more ways than one.”
Mark smiled. Above the sun climbed higher and chased the chill away.
Word count: 1619